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Long Island young adults find independence - but not without difficulty

Erik Van Wickler, 28, and his girlfriend Courtney

Erik Van Wickler, 28, and his girlfriend Courtney Appelbaum, 24, both originally from Oceanside, moved into a house in Point Lookout that they are sharing with another couple in order to afford living expenses. (Sept. 21, 2013) Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

During the young adult years that Erik Van Wickler, 28, was living at his parents' Oceanside home, mom and dad didn't charge him room or board. "Good deal, right?" says dad, Richie.

It is.

But having to accept such an arrangement is a raw deal as well.

While plenty of 20-something Long Islanders are lucky enough to be able to stay in their old bedrooms after graduating from high school -- or move back in after college -- most would like to have what one expert called "the economic wherewithal" to move out.


A study released in September, called "Long Island's Rental Housing Crisis," estimates that 85 percent of Long Islanders ages 20 to 24 are living with their parents or older relatives, and more than 54 percent of Long Islanders ages 25 to 29 are still living that way. The report was prepared by the Manhattan-based nonprofit research organization Regional Plan Association for the Long Island Community Foundation.

Those numbers are higher than the national percentage. In 2012, 36 percent, or 21.6 million, of young adults 18 to 31 lived with their parents nationwide, according to a study by the Washington, D.C.-based Pew Research Center, which analyzed data through March of 2012 from the U.S. Census Bureau. And that's the highest national percentage in four decades, according to the report, called "A Rising Share of Young Adults Live in Their Parents' Home."

That critical mass has made the situation easier to accept for parents and for members of what's been dubbed "the boomerang generation": In a Coldwell Banker survey released this summer, adults ages 18 through 34 said they think it's acceptable to live with parents up to five years after college.

But everybody wants them to move on at some point.

So Newsday is offering some Long Island role models.

Erik Van Wickler, for instance, and his girlfriend, Courtney Appelbaum. While Van Wickler was living with his parents, Appelbaum attended Rutgers University, but after graduating moved in with her parents in Oceanside. The couple recently left their childhood homes and moved into a four-bedroom house in Point Lookout in September.

How'd they manage to do it?

They're sharing the house with another couple. "A whole house is cheaper to rent than two apartments," Van Wickler says they all realized. Van Wickler and Appelbaum share the upstairs master bedroom and living room, and the other couple has the downstairs bedrooms, one of which they turned into a living room. The couples share the kitchen and laundry room. They split the $2,200-a-month rent.

"One of the things that's important to understand about this trend is that almost always the reason for being home is economic," says Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, author of "When Will My Grown-Up Kid Grow Up?" (Workman, $16.95) and a research professor of psychology at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. "It's highest wherever rents are highest." And that includes Long Island.

"There aren't many choices here for them," says Sharon Mullon, project manager for the Long Island study. Other suburban areas of the New York region have 2 1/2 times the number of available rental apartments per household as Long Island, according to the report. "The opportunities that do exist are almost cost-prohibitive for them," Mullon adds.

That's because many emerging adults can't find jobs, are living at their parents' homes while attending graduate school, or have full-time jobs that don't pay well enough to allow them to be self-sufficient, Arnett says. In 2012, 63 percent of 18- to 31-year-olds in the United States had jobs, down from the 70 percent of their counterparts who had jobs in 2007, according to the Pew study.

"There is this stereotype that they're just lazy and just want to sponge off their overindulgent parents as long as they can," Arnett says. But when asked if they would prefer to live independently of their parents, even if it meant a lower standard of living, 74 percent of the emerging adults surveyed in a 2012 Clark University Poll of Emerging Adults answered "yes," Arnett says.

So while parents and their adult kids may get along, and may even enjoy each other's company in the household, that's not the main thing keeping kids living in their old bedrooms or in their parents' basements, Arnett says.

It's money.


Of millennials ages 18 to 31 who have jobs nationwide, 29 percent are living in their parents' homes; of those who are unemployed and looking, 45 percent are living with mom and dad, and of those who have given up even looking for work, 50 percent are living with mom and/or dad, according to the Pew report.

"Millennials who have jobs are much more likely than their unemployed counterparts to have flown the parents' nests," says report author and Pew senior economist Richard Fry. The Great Recession and the weak recovery have clobbered 20-somethings, and, until the job market rebounds, the trend will likely continue, Fry says. "The key driving this is the vigorousness of the job market," he says. Emerging adults need "economic wherewithal."

To help young adults move out, parents should help them have a "vision of their life," says Robi Ludwig, a Manhattan psychotherapist and real estate lifestyle correspondent for Coldwell Banker. Ludwig worked on the real estate company's survey.

"They see moving back home as a strategy to help springboard them out into the real world," Ludwig says. Parents should avoid enabling their kids to become what Ludwig dubs "perma-children."

"There's a part of us that wants to stay in that childlike mode, where someone else is taking care of our needs," Ludwig says.

Parents should be sure their kids have a goal, such as paying off some student debt or saving to buy a house or to accumulate the chunk of cash needed to move into an apartment. "Underscore that you are an adult; it's not high school anymore," Ludwig advises. "The bottom line is, everybody has to move forward in life and look toward the next chapter. The goal of parents is to get the kids to live a successful, independent life."

It can be done.

CHECKLIST: What you need to move out


* first and last months' rents

* security deposit

* furniture

* money to pay utilities


* down payment

* closing costs

* furniture

* money to pay utilities

EAST NORTHPORT HOUSE: Nick Stripp, 25, and Shannon Rhatigan, 23


NEW DIGS Two-bedroom home in East Northport

COST $400,000

WHEN THEY MOVED HOME Stripp's and Rhatigan's parents live several houses apart. The couple met at Harborfields High and reconnected toward the end of college. After graduating from the SUNY Maritime College, Stripp got an engineering job in Massachusetts. After graduating from Marist, Rhatigan moved to her parents' in September 2012 to do her student teaching. "Luckily I have amazing parents, and they were excited to have me back," she says. "It was definitely weird being back home after getting a little bit more independent. It was weird . . . having to do chores. 'OK, your job is to take care of the dogs, do the dishes and take the garbage out.' "

WHERE THEY WORK When Rhatigan was offered a position in the Levittown Public Schools in January, Stripp landed a job in New York and moved back to his parents' house. They say they're sure their neighbors must have wondered what was going on with the two always walking to each other's houses after work. "It was always like, 'Whose house are we going to go to tonight?' " Rhatigan says.

HOW THEY DID IT Initially the couple planned to find a rental apartment closer to Stripp's Manhattan job, looking in Queens and Nassau. Meanwhile, Stripp was finding that the commute to the city wasn't so bad. "I could live out here and still be happy," he thought. The couple also has a dog, Sophie, and wanted to have a yard for their pet.

One of Rhatigan's parents worked at Citibank and talked to the couple about how they would be wasting money paying rent and suggested they buy. "It kind of just kept progressing," Rhatigan says.

Stripp put everything he earned into savings, except for buying an engagement ring. Both sets of parents helped with early wedding gifts -- the event is set for June -- and Stripp sold his car because he has a company car. That's how they amassed enough for a down payment.

They started looking in Suffolk, hiring a buyer's agent. They found "the house of our dreams," Stripp says, but it came with a nightmare: The owner got nine offers. Stripp and Rhatigan's agent suggested they write to the owners telling them how much they loved the house, how they were engaged and wanted to start their life together there and how they would take very good care of the property. They also upped their offer slightly.

It worked. "We reminded them of them when they were looking for a house," Stripp says. The owners were planning to stay in the area, and their friends lived across the street, so they wanted to be sure they would like the buyers, Stripp says.

WHY THEY CHOSE EAST NORTHPORT "We got a house that has very low taxes," Stripp says. "Our mortgage is less than what most of our friends are paying in rent." Stripp has been working on the house every weekend since they moved in August, reseeding the front lawn, refinishing floors and adding chandeliers.

WHAT RHATIGAN'S MOM SAYS Darlene Rhatigan did "the happy dance" when her daughter moved home, even though sometimes it meant "all the ice cream is gone -- rats." She says she's even happier that Shannon and Nick bought their own house here. "It's great that she's been able to find a way to live on Long Island. That's what most parents have angst about -- that your children have to move far away." She says the couple are careful to meet their new financial obligations. "I never thought I'd see my daughter going to the farmers market trying to figure out how to stretch $10," Rhatigan says.

LONG BEACH RENTAL: Garrett Guttenberg, 26, and Danielle Miller, 25


NEW DIGS One bedroom, ocean-view, high-rise apartment in Long Beach

RENT $1,850 a month

WHEN THEY MOVED BACK HOME After graduating from University at Albany, Guttenberg lived in his old bedroom for three years while attending Touro Law School. After graduating from University at Buffalo, Miller lived in her old bedroom for two years while attending Adelphi University to earn a master's degree in social work. Guttenberg and Miller met in high school, became engaged in June of 2012 and will be married in June of 2014.

"It was kind of nice to go back initially. You get laundry done, you get all your meals," Guttenberg says. But being away from Miller night after night was aggravating. "She goes back to her house, I go back to my house. . . . It was just time."

WHERE THEY WORK Guttenberg is a flood insurance specialist and contract expert for Miller's father at Denis A. Miller Insurance Agency in Long Beach. "I rip apart policies and figure out how to get people paid," he says. "Nobody knows more about flood insurance than me." Miller works for Hands Across Long Island in Jamaica, Queens.

HOW THEY DID IT The two saved $10,000 to cover first and last month's rent and security deposit as well as furniture. They are scheduled to move in Dec. 1.

WHY THEY CHOSE LONG BEACH Guttenberg's job is in Long Beach, and the couple wanted to live near the beach.

WHAT GARRETT'S MOM HAS TO SAY "It was wonderful to have him home," Ronni Guttenberg says. "I don't want him to leave. He's like my best friend." What will she do with his room? "I'm going to rent it," she jokes. But seriously: "I guess it'll become a guest room."

Ronni and her husband, Howard, both 55, have four children. The eldest, 37, recently bought a house in Dix Hills. There's also a 23-year-old son at home who attends Nassau Community College and a 19-year-old at West Virginia University. She says she worries her kids will move off Long Island: "Our taxes are through the roof, and the job opportunities aren't great on Long Island."

DEER PARK HOUSE: Andrew Cunha, 22


NEW DIGS Four-bedroom, two-bath house in Deer Park

COST $244,000

WHEN HE MOVED HOME After graduating from Carle Place High School, Cunha joined the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves. He also got a job as a sales consultant for Verizon and remained living at his parents' home. In 2011, when he was 20, Cunha was activated to go to Afghanistan. "I fought in Helmand province," Cunha says. He saved all his combat pay for seven months because he had no place to spend it, he says. Verizon also paid him while he was on duty, so he saved that money as well. When he returned from Afghanistan in April 2012, he moved back into his parents' house and resumed his Verizon job. By that time, he had accumulated $100,000, he says. Cunha is now a senior sales consultant for Verizon in East Northport.

CUNHA'S CHOICE "Instead of blowing it all on fancy cars and a lavish lifestyle, I decided to buy a house. Best decision I ever made," he says. He says that because of his age, the first real estate agent he went to "didn't take me seriously at all." So he switched. Now, to help pay the mortgage, he rents out the second floor of the house.

WHY HE BOUGHT IN DEER PARK "I initially wanted to move to the Massapequa/Merrick area," he says. But the taxes were much higher. His house has a finished basement with a bar, and he has parties in the man cave every other Friday for friends.

WHAT DAD HAS TO SAY "It's sad to see him grow up and leave, but it's even sadder when they don't grow up," Nelson Cunha says. He speaks from experience, he says, because his middle child, Michael, 21, is autistic. "He will never be leaving the house," he says.

Andrew Cunha told his parents when he was about 8 that he intended to serve his country. "He's always been very patriotic," says Nelson, who was born in the United States but grew up in Portugal. While Andrew was overseas, the elder Cunha didn't sleep well due to worry that his son would be hurt, killed or affected emotionally. So there was an unusual benefit to Andrew returning to the nest: Dad slept better. "I felt like the family was complete again, whole again." He's proud of Andrew for buying a home at such a young age. "If you want your kids to be grounded, put some weight on their shoulders," he says.

POINT LOOKOUT HOUSE SHARE: Erik Van Wickler, 28, and Courtney Appelbaum, 24


NEW DIGS Four-bedroom house in Point Lookout

RENT $2,200 a month, split with another couple

WHEN HE MOVED HOME Van Wickler never left after high school. He works in insurance with his cousin at William Van Wickler Agency in Oceanside. Appelbaum graduated from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., and is earning a master's in elementary education at Hofstra University. The couple was introduced by mutual friends.

HOW THEY DID IT The couple first rented a small apartment on a month-to-month lease in Oceanside. But they wanted to get a dog, and their apartment didn't allow pets. At the same time, Van Wickler's childhood friend C.J. China and his fiancee were looking for a new place because their apartment in Seaford had been flooded by superstorm Sandy. The four decided to rent together, Van Wickler says, because "a whole house is cheaper to rent than two apartments."

On Sept. 15, the two couples moved into a four-bedroom house in Point Lookout. Van Wickler and Appelbaum share the upstairs master bedroom and living room, and the other couple has the downstairs bedrooms, one of which they turned into a living room. The couples share the kitchen and laundry room. "We can be together if we want," Van Wickler says. They often barbecue together on their second-story deck, which has a view of the ocean. Their housemates have a bulldog named Chubbs.

THE PARENTS' CONCERN "Our parents are actually good friends," Van Wickler says of his and China's parents. "They didn't think it was a good idea. They didn't want us to get into arguments." The 'rents haven't had to fret yet: "So far, so good," Van Wickler says.

Van Wickler's dad, Richie, says he didn't mind having Erik home. When Erik and his girlfriend first moved to the small apartment, they didn't have a washer and dryer, "so we were guaranteed to see them on Sundays," Richie says. Now, he and his wife visit the couple in their home instead because it's near the beach.

The elder Van Wickler acknowledges he was initially worried about the living arrangement. "It's one thing to visit your friend or have your friend over, and they leave," he says. "When you are there with the person all the time, there's the possibility of getting on each other's nerves." But he echoes his son: "So far, so good."

ROOSEVELT APARTMENT: Sheila Wilson-Wells, 27


NEW DIGS Two-bedroom basement apartment in Roosevelt

RENT $1,000 a month

WHEN SHE MOVED HOME Wilson-Wells' mother died when she was a junior at SUNY Old Westbury, living in a dorm and studying psychology. "When I graduated, there was no place to go," Wilson-Wells says. She moved into the basement at her "Nana's." She got a job that paid $30,000 a year working for Head Start in Nassau County, and paid her grandmother $100 a month. "She felt like I should be contributing to the household," Wilson-Wells says. She also was repaying undergraduate loans and attended school for a master's in education/school counseling.

HOW SHE DID IT When Wilson-Wells first moved out, she bunked with friends until she got a better-paying job and then got her own apartment in May. "It's a good space," she says. "My family wants to hold Thanksgiving dinner at my house this year." Wilson-Wells says she enjoys having her own place, not just to sleep but to entertain friends.

THE NEXT STEP Wilson-Wells is working a second job nights at Madonna Heights, which caters to vulnerable adolescent girls, so she can pay off her school loans and start saving to buy her own house.

NANA WEIGHS IN "Her mother passed away, and it left a void that I tried to fill," says Anne Wells, 77. "It was a new experience. When they come from college, they are individuals; when they left, they were children. We had to learn each other's ways and be able to cope with them." Wells, who had lived alone, had to get used to someone else "under your feet." But now that Sheila has moved out, it's been another adjustment. "I miss her, yes I do," Nana says. "But I'm pleased she's acting like a real adult."

NEW HYDE PARK RENTAL: Jordan Klein, 29


NEW DIGS One-bedroom basement apartment in New Hyde Park

RENT $1,200 a month

WHEN HE MOVED HOME Klein moved home after graduating from Connecticut's Post University in 2006. He says most of his friends also moved back home after college. Though he studied criminal justice, Klein earned a real estate license and works for Douglas Elliman Real Estate in Franklin Square.

HOW HE DID IT Klein tossed his change into a five-gallon water cooler jug every day for four years. "It was either going to be vacation money or money for renting an apartment," he says. It was a hard decision, but he was ready to "sink or swim," he says. "I felt like I was never going to grow up. It was hard for me to be motivated living under my parents' roof." He moved in September 2012; the accumulated change paid his security deposit.

"The hardest part is there are a lot of expenses in the beginning as far as furnishing the place and learning how to budget yourself," Klein says. He says he tries to see his parents in Commack every Sunday. "Whenever I go there, I raid their refrigerator, and I go in the pantry and get toilet paper," he says. He says he's tempted to move back home because he wants to save money to buy a house; it's hard to do that while paying rent.

WHAT FINALLY PUSHED HIM OUT The commute from Commack every day was draining. "I wasn't happy when I got to work," he says. Now, his commute is 2 1/2 miles each way. He rides his bike to work. "I lost 20 pounds since I moved out," he says, a combination of biking to work and not having dinner waiting for him on the table when he gets home.

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